In which we continue our discussion of DC One Million, begun here.
As issue #2 opens, the present-day narrative has caught up with the Montevideo explosion. The Justice Legion A, infected with the virus, joins the present-day heroes in responding to the destruction. The future team is quick to figure out that Solaris implanted the virus in Hourman. The future Superman fears that Solaris will kill the present-day Superman (rather than his future incarnation, Superman Prime), whose death would unravel the Justice Legion’s future.
To make matters worse, the virus seems to make humans go insane within 24 hours. Martian Manhunter is able to change his DNA to contain the virus, and a few second-string Leaguers are holed up in Watchtower (the League’s lunar headquarters), but the rest of the world seems to already be infected. Using his shrinking powers, the Atom is able to see that the virus is mechanical, a product of advanced future technology beyond the expertise of anyone in the present.
Vandal Savage soon explains (first through a threatening transmission to the world and then to his prisoner Arsenal) how Montevideo was destroyed: the villain fired a nuclear-powered Rocket Red suit, with Tempest inside, at Washington, D.C., but the virus affected the suit’s guidance systems. Vandal Savage now puts the other three captured heroes into suits that he plans to place in orbit and essentially drop, thus eliminating any guidance problems. The issue ends with Arsenal screaming as the three suits blast off, knowing he’s been incorporated into a nuclear bomb.
JLA #1,000,000 (published in the week between DC One Million #2 and #3) begins with the future Batman explaining the the only way to save the planet from the virus is, ironically, to create Solaris. In DC One Million #3, we learn that the virus is a computer program – Solaris’s mind – waiting for a body to occupy. By the end of this issue, however, it’s already become clear that this was all Solaris’s plan all along – to engineer his own creation at his enemies’ hands.
The Justice Legion A invades the Watchtower, where Steel has been trying to build a time machine to rescue his camerades stranded in the future. The two teams combine forces to build Solaris, which they plan to start using the power from Steel’s time machine – the future Superman explains it “wouldn’t have taken you any further than a few thousandyears in either direction” anyway.
While all this is going on, we get a glimpse into how Earth is faring with the virus, as Oracle witnesses riots break out around the globe. Meanwhile, Martian Manhunter has spearheaded the construction of a radiation-proof dome around Montevideo (in what must have been record time).
The future Starman arrives at the Watchtower, having failed to respond to his team’s summons earlier. He’s carrying what looks like Kryptonite. The future Batman promptly accuses him of being a traitor. Batman’s reasoning isn’t entirely clear. In the future sequence at the end of DC One Million #1, Vandal Savage refered to his “ultimate weapon” as “the ‘Knight fragment’” – a reference to the Knight family, including the original and present-day Starman. Batman uses this same phrase here, when he accuses Starman, although it’s not clear how he’d have heard it. A more reasonable clue comes when Steel and the future Superman speculate how the future Solaris, not knowing about Steel’s time machine, thought they’d find a power source capable of starting the newly-build Solaris. The two likely candidates are Green Lantern’s ring and Starman’s power rod. Finally, back in DC One Million #1, the future Starman explained that he maintains Solaris, giving him the opportunity to conspire once Solaris returned to evil.
DC One Million #3 opens with the world continuing to descend into chaos, while the Justice Legion A struggles to retain its sanity long enough to assemble Solaris.
On the Watchtower, the future Starman reveals that the Knight fragment is Kryptonite, which he was supposed to bury on Mars. In the future, Solaris plans to use this fragment as a bullet to kill Superman Prime when he emerges from the sun.
On Earth, Martian Manhunter confronts Vandal Savage. The Rocket Reds have been stopped and the Titans inside them freed – including Tempest, who escaped the suit but blacked out, falling into the ocean before Montevideo’s destruction. Vandal Savage’s plans have been foiled, but he escapes, vowing revenge no matter how long it takes – a super-villain cliché, to be sure, but one this story manages to redeem.
Solaris activates in Earth’s proximity, causing the planet to see two suns in the sky. The virus is sucked up and into Solaris, installing his program onto the hardware there. The future Starman, repenting his treason, uses his power rod to power the infant Solaris – but dies doing so.
The threats to the present have been removed, though at the cost of the future Starman’s life and the creation of Solaris, who will plague the heroes for millennia. The heroes in the present now turn their attention to the threat in the future, a threat not only to the Justice League stranded there but to Superman Prime as he emerges from the sun.
It’s the Huntress, a minor character on the Justice League, who comes up with a plan – though we don’t hear it yet.
The last few issues have taken place entirely in the present, but the final issue sets only its first page there before turning to the future. And it’s here that all the pieces Morrison has set into place really pay off.
On that first page, we see the future Superman punching against a time barrier, apparently caused by Steel’s time machine – which wasn’t needed to start Solaris after all, thanks to the future Starman’s sacrifice. The future Superman ages with each punch, but he’s trying to charge the device in order to extend its power enough to reach the 853rd century.
On the next page, the first time we’ve seen this future since the first issue, Solaris is already on the attack. This isn’t the infant Solaris seen in the present but what looks to be a much larger being, blasting and absorbing the attacks of scores of unnamed future super-heroes. The Tyrant Sun’s blasts sweep across Earth, decimating forests and wild animals, and scarring the planet.
The Justice League, regrouping over Jupiter, plans an attack on Solaris and notes that there’s no record of him ever encountering a Green Lantern before, playing off the mystery of why the Justice Legion A has no version of Green Lantern. We soon learn that the League’s plan is to exploit this advantage and send Green Lantern into Solaris’s core, where he’s to plant a black hole. Meanwhile, the Flash is to use his powers to run the Justice Legion’s battle simulator, called a strategy engine, at high speed, allowing him to anticipate what battle strategies will and won’t work against Solaris.
The League also notes that “the Justice Legion’s tactical advisor,” Mitchell Shelley, has gone to Mars to investigate Vandal Savage, whom the heroes know to be allied with Solaris. Regular DC readers know Mitchell Shelley as the Resurrection Man, who has fought Vandal Savage through the ages. As the scene shifts to Mars, we see that Vandal Savage has already defeated Shelley, who’s left dying for the last time – no resurrection – in the sands of Mars.
The villain has also recovered the Knight fragment (which we’ve learned is Kryptonite) from where it was buried in the 20th century, and he teleports the fragment into Solaris (who we know plans to use it as a bullet to kill Superman Prime as he emerges from the sun). With this accomplished, Vandal Savage teleports away, using teleportational gauntlets stolen from Shelley.
But as Shelley lies dying, the sands of Mars begin to shift, taking the shape of Martian Manhunter. He’s apparently been masquerading as part of the planet for a long time, and he struggles to focus and to speak. He reassures the dying Shelley that, despite appearances, everything’s going according to plan. Helena, the Huntress, “told us how to win this battle… she died long, long ago…” His words ring with the poetry of the situation: “…our plans were buried deep… our blows timed across eons…”
To be concluded.
Vandal Savage should really be a more high-profile villain than he is. He’s the very personification of the evil that men have been doing since the earliest times. I’ve noticed that he turns up on most of the big crossovers in DC, but this is as close as he got to a starring role. He’s a key figure in the opening of Final Crisis, but isn’t named in the comic. I guess Lex Luthor often steals his thunder as the ultimate human villain.
The way Greg Rucka used him as the personification of Cain in his Final Crisis tie-in series was clever, when put beside all the heroes who took on the personas of mythic ‘types’ in the main series. Still, it’s great how Morrison has him here relating the tactics he learned from Hitler and the likes of Ghengis Kahn. It highlights what he represents and then his “I’ll be back” moment at the end tells us that for all that the JLA will light the path to a bright future eventually, the evil that men do will accompany them every step of the way.
Batman’s out of the blue accusation puzzled me too. Possibly there might have been a plot beat in Morrison’s plot notes for some of the Bat-comics he didn’t write, but Alan Grant, Doug Moench and especially Chuck Dixon all seemed to put in comics that were very in tune with what Morrison was trying to do. Which would leave one of two very ‘Morrison’ characteristics at work here. Possibly Batman’s discoveryof Starman’s treason, or his explanation of it, involved too much exposition, and Morrison just cut it out. Morrison would much rather produce comics that ‘pop’ rather than ones that explain everything in tedious detail. Or Morrison might have been relying on the catch-all explanation that he more or less invented for his JLA run – that Batman figures it all out because…well, he’s Batman!
Starman’s arc is quite impressive in this series, as he goes from newly introduced character, to traitor to the Legion and the whole Solar system, to crucial doomed saviour in only 3 weeks! In a medium that’s normally published monthly, yet! That’s Morrisonian hypercompression for you. Robinson’s Starman 1,000,000 issue, with farris Knight’s long conversation with the original Golden Age Starman, is definitely one of the highlights of the series, outside the core issues you look at here.
And even with all this hypercompression, Morrison still finds space for the more marginal characters to shine. He gives the lesser JLA members more or less the whole comic in JLA 1,000,000, partly perhaps to justify expanding the team halfway through his JLA run. That expansion put a lot of readers off, but I can see he wanted to expand the symbolic roles of his Justice League members, and I also think he wanted to extend the influence of his reconstructionist JLA into the rest of the DCU.
As you write above, he gave Mitch Shelley a very central role in the drama, and surprisingly set him up as the archenemy of one of the series two main villains, who had been a DCU slawart since the 1940s. Like a lot of Morrison’s best ideas, it looks like a natural fit in hindsight, but it was still a daring thing to do with a marginal quasi-hero who had only been around for 18 issues previous to this. From a quick check of the covers of those 18 issues, it looks like the rivalry between Savage and Shelley didn’t exist until this series. And from a glance at the subsequent issues of the series, it looks like Abnett and Lanning made hay with their enmity going forward. Superman’s long and deep friendship with Mitch that we see in other tie-ins would have been a surprise to the readers of Resurrection Man, too, where Mitch had been portrayed as a hard-bitten outsider up to that point. Their friendship emphasises the optimism and positive attributes that Morrison seems to be arguing the best DCU stories should portray.
Gabriel Walker/Chronos was another marginal, new character that Morrison put a lot of thought into. The Chronos tie-in showed how the character might develop into a very central, powerful one, if given the chance, not to mention a fun one. (Alas, Walker only lasted another 3 issues of his own series…) The Chronos tie-in, drawn by JH Williams III, is another one from outside the core issues that I’d recommend to your readers.
These are all examples of Morrison’s sense of generosity and inclusivity towards minor, seemingly inconsequential characters, something that shows up continuously in his other work.
Finally, I’ll also peg martian Manhunter 1,000,000 as a comic worth reading. Ostrander did much with the melancholic, poetic tone that you percieve in J’onn J’onnz brief role in DC One Million #4. We get the long story of how J’onn fought across vast distances of time and space to protect those he loves, losing so much in the process, but eventually fusing with the sands of Mars, to rest finally after his trials. The comic is very moving and has some great lines. Much of the emotion in it is supplied by what isn’t said between the ancient J’onn and his young inexperienced former teammate Kyle, who doesn’t know what J’onn knows about his future. It’s one of my favourite single issues ever. (It was also incidently, the first issue of Ostrander/Mandrake’s Martian Manhunter series to appear, which is kind of weird when you think about it.)
J’onn fusing with Mars also prefigures how Orion and Martian Manhunter both represented Mars the God of War in Final Crisis, dying within pages of each other in Final Crisis issue 1. Just shows you how long and deeply Morrison has been working on these concepts. Holding Martian Manhunter #1,000,000 up against Final Crisis #1, I see now that J’onnn J’onnz’ identification with the mythic Mars, God of War means that he is the one who spends 85,000 years fighting almost non-stop.
Morrison puts a lot into these comics, doesn’t he?